CSotD: Default is our own

I’m kind of sorry I used up Stephen Dedalus’s line from “Ulysses,” “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake” in a headline a few weeks ago, because here’s Matt Wuerker painting Uncle Sam as a reluctant dreamer awakening to a new reality.

Then again, Joyce seems to have been above the awakening in Ireland of his era, unlike Yeats who struggled to observe the change, in love with the revolutionary Maude Gonne but unable to commit to her vision, or her allies.

For Dedalus, in both Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist, Irish politics underlay nearly everything from his aunt’s hairbrushes and squabbles over Christmas dinner to drunken latenight arguments in brothels, but they remained part of his culture, not part of any political consciousness.

Less an issue of the face in power than the face on the syrup bottle.


Juxtaposition of the Day

(Ed Hall)


(Bob Gorrell)

Yes, it did take us that long, and while Aunt Jemima is pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, that’s precisely why she makes such a good example at the moment.

Gorrell’s white man honestly can’t figure out why he is suddenly under siege, and that’s precisely what is meant by “white privilege.” His puzzled analysis assumes that he is the default because he always has been.

And he misunderstands Martin Luther King because he genuinely doesn’t recognize how the color of his skin has indeed been considered before the content of his character, while, for visible minorities, the opposite is true.

Women and minorities in the workplace have always been judged with a sort of “despite” factor: How good of them that, despite not being one of us, they were able to behave like one of us.

It was never quite put that way, but it was very much seen that way, and not out of malice but out of insensibility.

It starts with the assumption that the default is the goal, that everybody wants to be “us.”

The toxic element of the “Melting Pot” myth being that we assume enough white goes into it that the resulting mix is never terribly dark.

“We,” the majority, can easily see the offense in watermelon, blackface and banjos, but it was harder, in the Sixties, to figure out that black people did not want to be referred to as “spades,” however affectionately we thought it came across.

Similarly, we thought that taking away Aunt Jemima’s bandana and making her younger and more stylish would cancel her problem.

Not realizing that it still left her in the secondary position of being the darkie we call “Aunt” because we can neither give her the honorific of “Mrs.” nor the intimacy of a first name.

And that, after all, whatever we call her, she’s still a servant, just as Uncle Tom and Uncle Remus were, however beloved, still slaves and darkies.

If you feel squeamish knowing that the performers at the Cotton Club were not allowed to sit in the audience at the Cotton Club, you’re halfway there.

It’s seeing Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben as “them” on “our” grocery store shelves that should help you grasp how deep the roots are planted.

Getting them off the shelves won’t solve the problem, but keeping them there makes it worse.

And, to go back to Wuerker’s cartoon, Mainstream America is finally waking up to the fact that it’s time, and past time.

The windows are shaking, the walls are rattling, the times they are a-changing.



Juxtaposition #2

(Ann Telnaes)


(Gary Varvel)

Feedback from the Supreme Court decision on gay and lesbian rights in the workplace offers two different angles on the same topic.

Telnaes is more ambiguous in her statement, because she might be depicting a balance in favor of the “equal treatment” noted on the fulcrum she draws of the Court building.

Or that balance might be between textual interpretation versus imposing personal values on the case, though I’d say that better explains the wide 6-3 split than it does the overall decision.

But there’s no doubt how Varvel sees the decision: Those who agree that the Constitution and existing federal law apply to gay and lesbian workers are not simply “liberals” but Democrats.

Gorsuch and Roberts, who voted with the majority, were appointed by Trump and GWB respectively, not by Democratic presidents, though Varvel’s “evolution” caption could include that.

And let’s ignore, for now, the idea that “evolution” is implicitly positive.

Note, rather, that Clarence Thomas does not have elephant feet but human feet.

Which takes us back to Gorrell’s cartoon and the concept of normalcy, default and privilege: Varvel assumes (consciously or subconsciously) that denying rights to LBGTQ people is not “Republican” but “normal” and that granting them rights is a Democratic position that goes against the default.

We’re not woke yet.


Juxtaposition #3

(Non Sequitur)


Getting Brother Leo on the same page as Wiley Miller’s doppelganger is an accomplishment in itself, but note that, as is usually the case, the gang in Non Sequitur take a pragmatic, cynical viewpoint, while the Francis folks are less tethered by practical experience.

It’s not likely that we could start things up again on a Benedictine level where the straw we sleep on is regularly turned over to make sure we’re not hiding luxuries.

Still, when you look at the price of our housing and of our cars, even before you get into the vacations we feel we deserve and the electronic toys we must have, it doesn’t take a CPA to notice that most of our income goes right out the door to feed the beast.

“Live simply that others may simply live” is a beautiful sentiment, but I’m afraid it’s a matter of shoving toothpaste back into the tube.

Once we start up again, some will live that simpler lifestyle, but I doubt it will be many more than lived it before the crisis.

Thus the new normal is apt to look a lot like the old normal.

You still have the option of righteousness, of course.

But you always did.


11 thoughts on “CSotD: Default is our own

  1. I;m actually surprised it took the makes of Aunt Jemima et al this long to figure it out, but I guess there are none so blind as those who will not see.

    The danger, of course, is that people will look at things like Chef Boyardee and insist it be changed as well, even though the chef was a real person, that’s a real painting of him, and Boyardee (actually Boiardi) was a family name, not a convenient Italian stereotype. God knows there are plenty of stereotypical food mascots out there, but it would help to be able to discern between the real and the imaginary.

  2. Just as an addendum: AJ used to be pretty decent, but now, compared to companies like Krusteez, it’s pretty unpalatable — and the same with Mrs Butterworth, which has increasingly tasted like plastic as the company continues to cut corners. You’re better off with simple house brands in most bases — or else biting the bullet and spending an extra buck or two on genuine maple syrup from either Canada or Vermont: lots of reliable brands out there for that.

  3. Friends visited Vermont, and brought me as gift a pair of polished native granite bookends — which I needed, and thought were quite pretty. But secretly I might have preferred if they just brought a couple pints of good maple syrup.

  4. This Adirondacker suggesting that spending a little more on real maple syrup is like deciding to spend a little more and get Champagne instead of Boone’s Farm.

  5. Thanks, as always. The first cartoon, of Uncle Sam thinking “everything’s okay now” and being rudely awakened reminds me, as things do, of Walt Kelly’s poem:


    The gentle journey jars to stop.
    The drifting dream is done.
    The long-gone goblins loom ahead.
    The deadly, who we thought were dead,
    Stand waiting, every one.

    And thanks for calling Varvel out on those human, non-elephant feet. Talk about stacking the deck.

  6. Just a quibble : Isn’t Jemima her first name ? As in Lord Peter Wimsey’s partner in crime-solving Jemima Shore ? Only saying this because some people still persist in calling me “Mrs” instead of Ms. just because that seems to be the default for us older women. Even though it’s been 50 years since “Ms” came into the vernacular.

    I suppose Varvel thinks he deserves credit for not portraying them with cloven hooves.

  7. I would assume Jemima was her first name, just as Uncle Remus’s first name was Remus and Uncle Tom’s first name was Tom.

    Though Remus and Tom might not have had last names, much less anyone who called them “Mr.” anything. Booker T. Washington had a somewhat tangled route to his last name, but when he started school after the war, he didn’t know he had one.

    Point is, if her name was Jemima Johnson, she could have been “Mrs. Johnson.” But wasn’t because you don’t address darkies like that.

    Now I’m hearing that they’re rethinking “Mrs Butterworth,” who is not only addressed respectfully as “Mrs” but I didn’t even know was African-American.

    I thought she was … clear plastic.

  8. Meanwhile, David Brin on FB reiterates that Roberts votes ‘liberal’ on social issues in order to craft an image of ‘balance’ by the Supremes.

    That way, they can claim fairness when they allow Trump and Republicans to maintain power, and protect Trump’s tax returns and illegal activities.

    I shudder to think what they will do if the election is contested. Like in 2000.

  9. I think the real problem with brands using a characature is just that: you perpetuate a stereotype, and even if it’s a sweater wearing tiger, there are still going to be some tip offs and dog whistles. Just sell your product! But of course, “Kellogg’s” “Amy’s” or whatever have a following and worked hard at one point to attach a name to their products. At the end of the day, if someone worked hard to put their own name on a product, that’s probably okay (except maybe for problematic elevating of terrible people) but if you are selling characters that have little or nothing to do with your actual product, someone is likely going to have a good reason to feel offended.

    But that’s not why we are here. We could remove every name and characature of every othered group off every product in the world and Briana Taylor would still have been murdered in her bed by police. That doesn’t negate the need to dispense with characatures, and with monuments to racism, but let’s not get sidetracked into thinking that’s an end, or even really a means to the necessary end. More realistically, we need to see things like department policy that says if force is used or a weapon is removed from a carrying case without video documentation, it’s grounds for immediate dismissal without the possibility of rehire. We can and should work to eliminate micro-agressions, but only if it’s not at the expense of real sweeping systemic change. At the same time, let’s not mistake the time it took to change something that’s racist as time it took to figure out that it was or laude the failure of an terrible product as some sort of actual effort to bring needed change.

    And going forward, let’s avoid suggesting the exploitation of names as a remedy to the glorification of racism and violence.

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